I think we all recall the Club of Rome report that came out in the early 1970s? That all minerals were going to run out imminently and that therefore by today we'd all be dead?
I've recently found out that it all depended upon an assumption which was questionable to be polite about it. That assumption being that mineral resources were around ten times mineral reserves. Thus we can look at the official numbers for reserves, work out how much is used each year and thus work out when the resources will run out. Add in a bit of growth in consumption and we get to scarily close, in historical terms, numbers for when we are all savages plundering the decayed remnants of our civilisation.
The problem is that this assumption is untrue. Not just a bit off, wildly inaccurate even, but just plain flat out wrong. For there is aboslutely no relationship at all between mineral reserves (the working stock of current mines, largely speaking) and mineral resources (again largely speaking, where we know we could go and open new mines). Simply nothing at all: for metals like germanium, gallium, tellurium, there are no reserves at all, certainly no resources and yet there's vast amounts of these metals lying around all over the place. For the first two we throw away many hundreds of times current snnual usage in minerals that we already process, we just don't bother to extract them. For others like, say, potassium for fertilizers reserves are some 50 odd years while resources are 13,000. To claim a 10:1 ratio is just nonsense.
But it is nonsense that leads to the desired conclusion. For financial reasons reserves are rarely more than 30-50 years' worth of production. So claim that resources are ten times this, add in some growth in consumption and you will always come to the conclusion that there's not that long before we all die AIEEEEE! Thus the conclusion reached by the Club of Rome is something that is baked into their assumptions, not a reflection of anything about the real world that the rest of us inhabit.
There's more though! While reading through these reports to work out what they were really saying I came across this paper, A Comparison of the Limits To Growth With Thirty Years of Reality. Essentially it's a defence of the fact that nothing the Club of Rome predicted actually happened but just you wait, it's about to. And in this paper I came across this delightful point:
First, it is assumed here that metals and minerals will not substitute for bulk energy sources such as fossil fuels.
What? But, but, that's what renewables are! We substitute silicon, gallium, a bit of germanium (other designs use cadmium and tellurium etc) for the fossil fuels we would use to generate electricty by making those metals into solar cells. Wind turbines are using aluminium and rare earth metals to do much the same thing. The entire point of this Great Green Gambit is that we're using metals to substitute for fossil fuels.
The first report got the availability of minerals and metals wrong, howlingly wrong, and that is what would lead to disaster. This second report agrees that metals are easier to find than that but then goes onto state that we won't actually use them and therefore diaster will follow.
Both reports are, therefore, wrong. Unfortunately, the people who rule our world tend to believe the reports.